Interview with Dinesh Bhatia Ambassador of India in Argentina

India

In the opening of the new interview series by DEF, the ambassador of the world’s fifth-largest economy and Argentina’s fourth-largest trading partner discussed the current state of bilateral relations and highlighted significant opportunities in trade, science, culture, health, and education. The diplomat, whose country currently presides over the G-20 and is a founding member of the BRICS group, emphasized the need to bridge the gap between the two nations.

Far from the spotlight of major local media, the Republic of India emerges as one of the emerging countries poised to play a leading role on the international stage. With its 1.417 billion inhabitants, it recently surpassed China as the world’s most populous country. Additionally, in 2022, India overtook the United Kingdom as the fifth-largest economic power globally, ranking only behind the U.S., China, Japan, and Germany. According to projections by the financial consultancy Morgan Stanley, by 2027, India will become the third-largest economy in the world. Since December of last year, India has been at the helm of the G-20, choosing a universalistic theme for its presidency: “One Earth, One Family, One Future.”

The relationship with Argentina, dating back to 1949, has been elevated to a “strategic partnership” since 2019. Today, India is Argentina’s fourth-largest trading partner, with a significantly favorable balance for Argentina. There are high expectations for cooperation in medicines and vaccines, as demonstrated during the pandemic. Furthermore, opportunities are anticipated in science, technology, energy, space policy, and, notably, in the cultural sphere, given Argentina’s interest in yoga and Ayurvedic medicine. Ambassador Dinesh Bhatia stated, “No one can know India solely through books, movies, or food; visiting the country is an irreplaceable experience.”

Ambassador, India is now the most populous country on the planet. What challenges does this demographic growth pose for you?
It’s a significant challenge because we must address this enormous population, especially in a democracy, the largest on the planet. Keep in mind that we have 897.5 million registered voters, and in the last general elections (held between April and May 2019), there was a participation of over 66%. That is, more than 560 million exercised their right to vote, and electronic machines were used throughout the process. At the same time, we have the advantage of having a very young population, with an average age of less than 28 years. We also have one of the world’s largest diasporas, and one of our embassy’s primary responsibilities is to care for that diaspora.

What are the figures for the Indian diaspora in Argentina?
In Argentina, Indian residents and descendants of those who arrived in the country over 100 years ago do not exceed 2500 people. The first Indian family to settle here did so in 1876. Those pioneering communities settled in the northern provinces—Jujuy, Salta, and Tucumán—to work on plantations owned by the British and on railways, which were also being built by British companies. Today, we estimate no more than 1000 Indians in those provinces. Additionally, there are almost 1500 in Buenos Aires and its surroundings, with various stores and businesses in the city and the province of Buenos Aires. A group of young Indians has also arrived to work in multinational companies, such as the Big Four—Deloitte, PwC, EY, and KPMG—or Goldman Sachs, where they work as auditors or IT experts.

A FERTILE TECHNOLOGICAL ECOSYSTEM

You just mentioned the work of your compatriots in the IT sector. A city, Bangalore, is often mentioned as a symbol of this takeoff and has been dubbed the “Silicon Valley” of India.
We have a very conducive environment for the growth of startups, with the second-highest number of such ventures in the world and a deeply rooted culture. Thanks to this technological culture and the impetus given by the government, particularly in the last 10 or 15 years, India now has over 100 unicorns [Note: 102 companies with a valuation of over $1 billion, according to the Venture Intelligence index as of September 2022].

India has also implemented a very interesting model of digital payments. Could you provide details?
The digital payment system has been very effective: from 2014 to 2019 (pre-pandemic), over 400,000 new bank accounts were opened in the country. India has the highest number of daily digital payment transactions in the world. It is used by everyone, from the rich to the poorest citizens, and the intermediation cost is infinitesimal. With our wonderful experience, I believe we can collaborate with Argentina because this also contributes to social and gender inclusion.

THE “PHARMACY OF THE WORLD”

During the pandemic, the contribution of the Indian pharmaceutical industry to the world, especially in vaccine production, was evident. How important is this sector for your country?
Firstly, it’s not easy to care for and provide health services to over 1.4 billion people. India has focused heavily on strengthening its healthcare system and being a provider of affordable and high-quality medicines. We started with the manufacture of generic drugs and reached a point where we produced a surplus that allowed us to begin exporting medicines. Currently, we are the largest exporter of pharmaceutical products globally. There is ample room for collaboration with Argentina and countries in the so-called “Global South.” During the pandemic, we exported medicines to 180 countries and developed vaccines, one of them entirely Indian (Covaxin) and another in collaboration with AstraZeneca (Covishield). We were the largest manufacturer of COVID-19 vaccines, and in the future, we can do the same with others. Over 40% of vaccines reaching Latin America through the World Health Organization (WHO) come from India.
What is the participation of the Indian pharmaceutical industry in our country’s imports?
India still has a very low share: of the approximately $3 billion in medicines that Argentina imports each year, India’s share is no more than $60

million.
Your country has a claim against the Argentine government regarding Decree 150/1992 on the registration and importation of medicines. Why is India requesting inclusion in Annex I of this decree?
This regulation divides countries exporting medicines to Argentina into two annexes. Annex I lists a series of countries that can export without an inspection of their factory by the National Administration of Drugs, Food, and Medical Technology (ANMAT). In the case of Annex II, a physical visit from ANMAT is required for approval. India was included in Annex II in 2014, and we are currently requesting our inclusion in Annex I.

YOGA, AYURVEDA, AND NUCLEAR MEDICINE

How do you assess the possibilities of a greater link in health matters, considering the experience of the pandemic?
We have had a special connection during the pandemic, with India exporting a significant quantity of medicines, including paracetamol, as there was a shortage worldwide. Argentina, in turn, approved the export of artificial respirators to India. We’ve had very special gestures, and we understand that there is high potential for collaboration in the health and wellness sectors. When I talk about well-being, I also refer to yoga and Ayurveda. I don’t need to elaborate on yoga because its practice is widespread in Argentina, with thousands of followers. There are also more than five Argentine universities offering courses in Ayurvedic medicine, and it seems to me that official recognition as a “primary healthcare system” would be very important. It could help Argentina reduce its healthcare costs and benefit Indian agriculture in the cultivation of herbs for export. It would be a win-win situation where both countries would gain.
Is there also a space for cooperation in the field of nuclear medicine, given that, for example, INVAP launched a radioisotope production plant in India last year?
Yes, the plant in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) – located at the Bhabha Atomic Research Center – is intended for the production of molybdenum-99. Argentine authorities from the National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA) and the Minister of Science and Technology, Daniel Filmus, met with India’s Minister of Science and Technology, Jitendra Singh, to launch a joint call for research projects and the awarding of scholarships. It is an effort that both countries will undertake jointly. There are many possibilities to connect and continue collaborating.

ENERGY, SPACE, AND BEYOND

In the recent tour by Argentine authorities, YPF President Pablo González signed an agreement with the oil company ONGC Videsh. What does it entail?
I am very happy because I have been working on this agreement for more than three years. First, I must explain that ONGC Videsh is a subsidiary of the state-owned company ONGC (Oil & Natural Gas Corporation) and is responsible for foreign investments. Currently, it has investments in 17 countries, including Russia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil. In Brazil, for example, it has investments of over 2000 million dollars. India is the world’s second-largest importer of oil and gas, and its needs will increase because we have a very large population. Argentina could be a significant supplier. ONGC Videsh has been trying to enter this market for more than 15 years. Finally, two years ago, we started discussions with YPF, and now both companies have signed a framework agreement not only to promote investments but also to collaborate on best corporate practices. India has more experience in downstream, and Argentina has many oil and gas reserves, giving it greater knowledge in the upstream. I would like ONGC Videsh to achieve this important investment, which could be in Vaca Muerta or another productive area.

India is also present in the space race. In that same realm, do you believe there are possibilities for cooperation between the Indian Space Research Organization and our National Commission on Space Activities?
India’s space program is very strong and ambitious. We have also launched satellites for over 100 countries into space. We plan to send a manned mission to the Moon and have also launched a satellite to Mars. The investment in this mission is very economical: we have very competitive capabilities and resources that can be utilized. In 2007, Argentina launched a satellite from India [Note: the Pehuensat-1, developed by researchers from the National University of Comahue, was launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre]. We are willing to work together: we can launch Argentina’s satellites from our platforms at a much lower cost for your country.

INDIA, G-20, AND BRICS

India currently presides over the G-20 at a time when the world faces crises and an ongoing war in Europe. What role can it play in this complex scenario?
For us, diplomacy has to work: we need to engage in dialogue and put an end to violence. From the early days of the war, our government spoke with the President of Russia (Vladimir Putin) and the President of Ukraine (Volodymyr Zelensky). India promotes peace and dialogue worldwide. We have invited nine other countries to the G-20: Bangladesh, Egypt, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Singapore, Spain (a permanent invitee), and the United Arab Emirates. Three multilateral organizations will also participate: the International Solar Alliance, co-founded by India and France, headquartered in New Delhi; the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, of which Argentina was one of the founding countries; and the Asian Development Bank.

Another significant group that your country is part of is BRICS, along with Brazil, Russia, China, and South Africa. How important is it for your foreign policy?
We have developed this platform, which is very important and allows us to work in different areas, from the economy to social issues. India is also a member of other multilateral groups, such as the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which includes Australia, the U.S., and Japan). Our foreign policy aims to strengthen ties with other countries and mutually share our diverse capabilities.

Argentina is seeking to join the BRICS group. Does it have the support of India?
There are discussions. In BRICS, we are five partners who have to sit down and decide on the integration of new members. Argentina is a friendly country to India, and we will support its inclusion in the group.

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